What's In A Stadium Name?
Go through a list of vintage stadiums and you’ll find iconic names like Sportsman’s Park (St Louis), Shibe Park (Philly), Ebbets Field (Brooklyn), West Side Park (Chicago), etc.
With the exception of a few structures, the old venues designated after team owners and city neighborhoods are long gone, buried in the rich heap of ball park history.
Another step in the mass commercialization of professional sports, stadiums today are more apt to lease their names to private corporations. More than three-quarters of the existing franchises in MLB, NBA and NFL play in facilities associated with a well-known business brand.
Naming deals are typically 10 to 20-year term contracts with fixed annual payments. Advertisers can leverage their labels on an actual site such as CenturyLink Field in Seattle, or an event like the Emirates FA Cup in Britain.
For stadiums and events, selling naming rights can be a welcoming source of ancillary income. For advertisers, it’s a long-term marketing strategy aimed at maintaining and reinforcing a recognized brand.
In sports, commercial naming practices can be traced back to Fenway Park, which opened in 1912 in the Fenway section of Boston. Red Sox owner John Taylor also had an eye on promoting his real estate company, Fenway Realty, to the early throngs of baseball goers.
But it was Wrigley Field in Chicago (photo above) that started gracing stadiums with a corporate appellation. In 1926, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley acquired the Chicago Cubs baseball team and subsequently re-branded Cubs Park as Wrigley Field.
Foxboro Stadium, playground site of the old Boston Patriots, was an early example of a team that sold its naming rights to an entity not affiliated with the franchise. The sports facility opened in 1971 as Schaefer Stadium and was later renamed Sullivan Stadium before being demolished.
Reactions to the corporate branding of sports facilities have generally been supportive, especially if the buyer enjoys strong connections to the local community. Examples are the old Rich Stadium in Buffalo, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and Coors Field in Denver.
In some instances, a private designation was deemed unacceptable. In 1953, August Busch, owner of the Anheuser-Busch beer company and the St Louis Cardinals, was pushed back by the commissioner of baseball when he proposed to rename Sportsman’s Park, Budweiser Stadium. The parties eventually settled on Busch Stadium.
Worldwide sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro, Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games prohibit the use of corporate-sponsored names, seeing it as a form of “ambush marketing”.
Naming transactions have only gotten more lucrative with time. Buffalo-based Rich Products paid $1.5 million per year when the gates opened at the Bills’ football stadium in 1972. Thirty-five years later, NYC's Citifield inked a brand exposure deal worth $20 million per annum, a record high that later followed with the Barclays Center.
With the globalization of sports, corporate logo rights continue to point upwards towards ever growing windfall profits. The future home of the Los Angeles Rams and the renovated stadium for Spain's Barcelona FC are both bidding out naming rights for $30 million a year.
Fortunately, some storied venues have retained their historic designations- Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park.
But as the top three wealthiest clubs in professional baseball, those teams can afford to carry the tradition.
GOLF December 11, 2009 Tiger Woods announces he would take an indefinite leave from professional golf following allegations and his admission of marital infidelities. A number of his sponsors subsequently dropped him such as Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors. After undergoing therapy, Woods was back on the course at the 2010 Masters. He and his wife divorced that summer.
HOCKEY December 17, 1999 Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins becomes just the 3rd person in NHL history to post 1,100 assists. Spending the majority of his tenure with the Bruins, the Quebec native still holds the NHL record for most goals, assists, and points by a defenseman. His career lasted from 1979-2001 but he won his only Stanley Cup in his final year playing for the Colorado Avalanche.
BASEBALL December 11, 1989 Mark Davis signs a record $10 million, 3-year contract with the Kansas City Royals. That year, he won the NL Cy Young Award with the San Diego Padres, posting an ERA of 1.85 and 65 finished games. Though, he would never come close to matching his accomplishments with the Padres. Playing for 7 different MLB teams, Davis retired with a career ERA of 4.17.
FOOTBALL December 3, 1979 Charles White, running back at the University of Southern California, is awarded the Heisman Trophy. The 5’10, 190 lb. footballer would become a first-round pick (27th overall) in the 1980 NFL draft, joining the Cleveland Browns and later on the Los Angeles Rams. At USC, White scored 49 touchdowns and led the Pac-8 and Pac-10 records in total yards rushed at 6,245.